Aussies Have Lots of Style, And Even More Substance

Monday, April 30, 2007

First impressions of the Australian Chamber Orchestra center on the players' jet-black outfits and modish hairstyles. But the ACO's Friday evening concert at the Clarice Smith Center, conducted by lead violinist and director Richard Tognetti, was far more substance than style, even with that slick appearance.

The ensemble's warmth of tone and unity of sound attracts some of the world's great instrumentalists, and the musicians worked marvelously with the wonderful Dutch cellist Pieter Wispelwey. In Haydn's Cello Concerto in C, Hob. VIIb, there was none of the clunky gear-shifting that can often infect concertos. Rather, this was tightly integrated, feverish musicmaking among soloist and ensemble. The orchestra set the stage for Wispelwey's alternately bravura and lyrical passagework with a rich prelude in the first movement. Lush, flowing lines wove a colorful fabric, while the cellist let loose some fiercely articulate and accented figures. The pleasing combination of clarity and motion carried through in the plush second movement and gave the scampering finale the quality of a delirious dance.

On his own, Wispelwey played a brief movement from one of Britten's solo cello suites. It was a deeply felt testament to Mstislav Rostropovich, whose death at 80 was announced earlier that day.

Surrounding the cello pieces were colorful string essays, like Corelli's Concerto Grosso in F, Op. 6, No. 2, and Vivaldi's Concerto for Four Violins and Orchestra in B Minor, Op. 3, No. 10. Tognetti's beaming violin set the pace, driving the others to follow and injecting a catch-me-if-you-can spontaneity. Clear, too, was the commitment to make each aspect of the score audible, and the sound-sculpting was top-notch.

Everything came together in Tchaikovsky's "Souvenir de Florence," Op. 70. Wispy melodic figures naturally coursed through the orchestra, while propulsive rhythms kept the more chunky chords hurling along.

-- Daniel Ginsberg

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